Slovenia has demonstrated how a country can develop its tourism industry sustainably, but it doesn’t solve the persistent problem of slow hotel action. Without getting hotels on board, the capacity to tackle urgent sustainability issues like climate change will remain formidable.
Slovenia’s tourism board created a green certification scheme for destinations, hotels, parks and other stakeholders back in 2015 that has become a global model for how to sustainably develop a national tourism industry. Yet it comes up short when it comes to the industry problem of hotel participation.
Under the Green Destination certification process, destinations fill out an application, are audited, given a report then have to create a one year action plan, budget for it and present it to their municipality board, according to Jana Apih, managing director of GoodPlace, a nongovernmental organization that works with the Slovenia Tourism Board on the certification process.
Destinations report back on their action plan progress annually and are re-evaluated every three years.“They really need to go into it and say ‘This is where I’m not performing well. This is what I need to do in the next year,’ ” Apih said.
Slovenia has historically been a green country. More than 61 percent of the land area of Slovenia is covered in forests, making it one of the wooded countries in Europe. Over a third of the country is under the environmental protection of the European Union’s Natura 2000. In 2014, the tourism board wanted to develop its industry sustainably.
Instead of developing their own from scratch, Slovenia used the Green Destinations Standard, which is recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. “We looked at each criteria and adapted it to Slovenia,” said Slovenia Tourism Board Research and Development Project Manager Maša Klemenčič. The Slovenia Tourism Board labels each destination as a gold, platinum, silver or bronze based on their fulfillment of the criteria.
The tourism board added a greater focus on community input. Destinations must survey locals, visitors and tourism businesses every three years. “We want our destinations to think very closely about the local communities,” Apih said. “What they actually benefit from and what is the burden on a destination.” Every destination also must have a green team composed of a destination site manager and local public service providers like water management.
Some of the original criteria have been difficult to implement. Carbon tracking is one example. “Carbon emissions and carbon footprint are still problematic. We didn’t have a tool, but we had to keep to the standard,” Klemenčič said. “Every destination that got their audit report always had negative marks on these two criteria. We couldn’t give destinations any concrete tools as to how to measure it.” Destinations have to rely on a carbon tracking tool developed by Breda University of Applied Sciences.
Fast forward to today, 58 destinations have a green label. Almost all of the 35 leading destinations, which produce 98 percent of all overnight stays in Slovenia, have a green label, according to Klemenčič. About 90 percent of all overnight stays are at certified destinations. The Green Scheme has also expanded beyond destinations.
Slovenia’s small destinations are using the green scheme to build their tourism industries, according to Klemenčič. The European Travel Commission and Travel Foundation has leaned on Slovenia’s experience for crafting sustainable tourism development frameworks.
For the record, winning over destination participation wasn’t a challenge for the Slovenia Tourism Board. “Destinations and businesses were very eager, especially destinations. We didn’t have any problem in how to recruit them,” Apih said.
But there’s an essential stakeholder group still missing: hotels. To participate, hotels have to go through a green accommodations certification process or receive a certificate from a recognized third-party like Green Key. “At this point, our bigger challenge is still to attract more hotels and accommodations,” Apih said. Only 7.7 percent of accommodations are green certified, according to Klemenčič.
Big hotel chains like Sava Hotels and Resorts, which own 17 hotels in Slovenia, are moving very slowly. “We have a few big hotels and those are the problems,” Apih said. Hotels are committed to the sustainability philosophy, but they are moving at a sluggish pace to finish the whole certification process and the required follow-ups. She attributes it to the lack of “human capacity” caused by the industry labor shortage.
Sava Hotels & Resorts is “taking it step by step,” said Ana Praprotnik, director of marketing. The chain’s Hotel Park, Rikli Balance Hotel and Hotel Histrion have received the Green Accommodations label. Four more accommodations are in the process of receiving a Green Key label, which will allow them to qualify for the Green Accommodations label. “We, at Sava Hotels & Resorts, are extremely committed to sustainability concepts and practices,” she said.
Still, hotels in general are not the fastest movers on sustainability issues. Most hotels around the world have not taken action on the urgent issue of climate change, a takeaway from the Skift Sustainable Tourism Summit. Less than 20 percent of any hotels worldwide have taken any serious steps toward reducing carbon emissions, said Skift Senior Vice President of Research Haixia Wang at the summit.
To bring hotels onboard, the tourism board has attached the top green labels to hotel participation. “No destination can have the gold or platinum label if they don’t have one accommodation provider with the Slovenia green label,” Klemenčič said. The hope is that destinations can educate and guide hotels toward certification.
“Our next step is to motivate more hotels and business in general, “Klemenčič said. ”We can’t transform Slovenian tourism without them. They are the ones carrying tourism on the terrain and reality.”
Correction: The carbon tracking tool destinations use was developed by Breda University of Applied Sciences, not Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as initially reported.
Photo credit: Lake Bled, Bled, Slovenia Johnny Africa / Unsplash